Technology is often packaged in the form of tangible assets, intangible property, and knowledge and skills. These different forms of technology may be transferred from one country to another through trade in tangible and intangible assets, the provision of services or licensing and leasing agreements, and also as part of FDI. The different modes of transfer and methods of payments may give rise to different tax obligations.
There are two ways in which taxation affects technology transfer: it increases the cost of the actual transfer and reduces the returns to the owner of the technology. Although most tax provisions could be perceived as obstacles to technology flows, in practice only a few taxes are likely to hinder technology transfer. Excessive corporate income tax, high import duties, excessive taxation of dividends, royalties and technical fees, and high withholding taxes are some of the tax instruments that may deter technology transfer. Similarly, exorbitant taxation of expatriate employees may also discourage the transfer of knowledge and skills.
Many countries offer investment incentives in the form of tax concessions to acquire technology through trade and FDI flows. Although there are concerns that, in some cases, the incentives granted may exceed the benefits that countries obtain from the investment, there is evidence to suggest that tax incentives play an important role in some types of investment decisions. From the recipient country-perspective, enhancing the impact of incentives requires careful targeting.
This study examines the implications of various tax instruments on the transfer of technology from the perspective of both technology importing and exporting countries. It also identifies some of the tax-related policy instruments than can be used to promote technology transfer to developing countries.